We all try to do things right. No business sets out to do wrong when servicing customers. But life is full of unexpected moments and, inevitably, mistakes do happen. When this happens, so does the opportunity to improve customer loyalty.
While many people in business focus on doing things right the first time, very few seem to take a powerful interest in setting things right when things do go wrong. In those moments, a passion for “zero defects” often gives way to “Let’s get this mess cleaned up fast and pretend it never happened.”
Because of this attitude, businesses miss an important opportunity to improve customer loyalty and build valuable goodwill. It is exactly when things go wrong that customers are most sensitive about how they are treated, most likely to share their experiences with friends and colleagues and most likely to make lasting decisions about whether to bring their future business back to that company, or to its rival. Act correctly at this time and you can improve customer loyalty.
We all know mistakes will happen. What we do not know is how we will be treated when we go back to get the mistake corrected. “Will they treat me as if it’s my fault?” “Will they argue with me?” “Will they make it difficult for me to prove my purchase, fill out papers or otherwise file my complaint?”
In these unpleasant moments, customers’ sensitivities are heightened. If they were casual shoppers before, they become discerning now. If they were discerning shoppers before, they become hypersensitive when things go awry.
You can make that sensitivity work in your favor to improve customer loyalty. When service errors are quickly and professionally handled, you can improve customer loyalty can actually see it “bounce back” to greater heights than if the problem never happened. That’s why service recovery situations can be described as “opportunities you wish you never had.”
Consider this example to improve customer loyalty:
You buy a pair of expensive shoes at a small boutique and pay cash. You go home and eventually throw away the receipt. Two weeks later as you’re walking down the street, the heel pops off and falls beyond reach into the drain below. You decide to return your new shoes to the boutique and ask for a replacement. But of course you’re a bit nervous since you’ve thrown away your receipt.
Now imagine the sales clerk welcoming you with a smile and right away setting you at ease about not having kept your receipt. She promptly gives you a new pair of shoes and then adds in a free pair of matching socks to thank you for coming back, and to apologize for the inconvenience you experienced.
Would you return to that boutique in the future? Would you recommend that boutique to your friends? Of course you would. Your loyalty to the boutique has actually gone up because you had a service problem and the recovery was handled very well. The boutique took the right steps to improve customer loyalty.
This is the key point: When things go wrong, you have a tremendous opportunity to improve customer loyalty just by quickly and generously setting things right.
To capture the secret advantage hiding inside your next service breakdown, train everyone to understand and use these seven simple steps to improve customer loyalty.
“Bouncing Back” with S E R V I C E recovery to improve customer loyalty:
S-ay You’re Sorry.
There’s nothing like a sincere apology, delivered right away, to let people know you really care. There’s no need to grovel or apologize forever. One honest and heartfelt apology will suffice to improve customer loyalty.
The faster you can fix the problem, the better. This is not the time to calculate the cost of repairing the damage. Do what it takes to set things right and you will improve customer loyalty. Costs will be forgotten or absorbed over time, but benefits last forever.
R-espond to the Customer.
Remember people are involved, not just products, dates and orders. Take the time to empathize. Be a listening ear. Keep personal contact; use the phone, send a fax, stay in touch. And when it’s all over, thank them personally with a note, small gift or some other special gesture to improve customer loyalty.
V-ictory to the Customer.
Improve customer loyalty by giving more than they expect. Refunds, discounts, special assistance, extra services; it doesn’t have to be money. But whatever it is, do it fast! No loyalty is gained from a refund or gesture that takes months to negotiate, authorize or discuss.
Change your processes and improve training to avoid the same problem next time. Institutionalize improvements to help improve customer loyalty across the board.
Spread the word so that everyone can learn from what has happened. Provide full information about consequences and improvements.
E-xtend the Outcome.
Don’t stop working when they stop complaining. Stay in touch until you are sure the customer comes back and their long-term loyalty is assured.
What else can you do to improve customer loyalty?
Make it easy for your customers to complain! Create new ways for customers to let you know what’s wrong.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
• Set up a telephone hotline for immediate response to customer comments and complaints.
• Give counter staff the power to take prompt and significant action for your customers.
• Conduct focus groups with a cross-section of customers to find out what they want you to fix or do better to improve customer loyalty.
• Run surveys to keep track of your customers’ changing expectations. Find out what customers are buying now and what they want in the future.
• Provide easy-to-use comment cards at all points of customer contact and insert them in all outgoing mail. Show your appreciation for responses, and reply quickly.
• Become a customer of your best competitors. Eagerly seek out what they do better or differently than you. Then make appropriate improvements in your business operation and you will improve customer loyalty.
Long-term, loyal customers lead to lower costs, repeat orders, frequent referrals and expanding profit margins. Losing one of these precious patrons is much more costly than the revenue from a single sale!
Service recovery does cost money (although a sincere apology costs nothing and goes a long way toward appeasing upset customers). But perhaps service recovery shouldn’t be seen as a cost at all!
Bouncing back through generous service recovery is a proven strategy for building repeat business and long-term sustainable profits. It’s not a cost, it’s an intelligent business investment that will improve customer loyalty.
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Copyright, Ron Kaufman. Used with permission. Ron Kaufman is the world’s leading educator and motivator for upgrading customer service and uplifting service culture. He is author of the bestselling “Uplifting Service” book and founder of Uplifting Service. To enjoy more customer service training and service culture articles, visit www.RonKaufman.com.
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